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Classic films about money (and the lessons they teach)

Money’s a popular subject in Hollywood, but there are some blue-chip classics that deliver real-life lessons worth learning. The 1980s make a solid contribution, supported by a ’60s kids classic and a mostly true story about sport.  

Wall Street (1987)

Wall Street Top Money Films

Wall Street is the all-time classic money movie, turning Greed Is Good into the catchphrase of the year when it was released. Gordon Gekko remains one of the most iconic characters in Hollywood history, inspiring a wave of brash young men to flock to New York in search of power and money. Oliver Stone delivered a powerful message about corruption in the financial world, while Michael Douglas got to deliver some cinematic pearlers: “If you need a friend, buy a dog”, “What’s worth doing is worth doing for money” and the full line: “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

The lesson: Ambition and drive are good, but greed clouds judgment and leads to bad decisions. 

Mary Poppins (1964)

Mary Poppins Top Money Films

Mary Poppins might not seem the most obvious choice, but it delivers more than its fair share of important lessons about money. There’s a most excellent song about the powers of compound interest – not many films can boast about that – as well as the equally important counterpoint of Let’s Go Fly A Kite, when Mr Banks reconnects with his children as Mary looks on wistfully. Then there’s Michael resisting the crowd to use his tuppence to do as he darn well pleases and feeding the birds (though there’s also something to be said about avoiding emotion-driven investment decisions, cough cough). Lessons aplenty here, as well as some of the best musical numbers ever written. Pass the tissues, please.

Lesson: Another one? Really? How about this: Investing in good help is money well spent.

Brewster's Millions (1985)

Brewsters Millions

Brewster’s Millions is the most remade film of all time, but Richard Pryor’s 1985 version is the classic. Montgomery Brewster has to spend $30 million in 30 days (without accruing any new assets or donating too much to charity) to inherit an even bigger fortune, and he can’t tell anyone about the odd conditions of his great uncle’s will. The scenario is irresistible and leads to some pretty ingenious spending. It’s a film that owes much of its appeal to conversations about what you’d do if you won the lottery.

The lesson: You can, in fact, have too much of a good thing – especially when you can’t use it to do good things.

Working Girl (1988)

Working Girl Top Money Films

While Working Girl is one of the few great money films with a female lead, it well and truly makes this list on its own merits. Melanie Griffiths is brilliant as Tess McGill, who works as a secretary in mergers and acquisitions at a Wall Street investment bank but dreams of greater things. She pitches her own idea for a merger deal after her two-faced boss breaks her leg skiing, but life gets complicated when the boss works out what Tess has been up to. Working Girl was a worldwide hit and is worth revisiting even if it’s just to appreciate the epic hairstyles.

Lesson: Learn from the people around you – sometimes they’re smarter than you think.

Moneyball (2011)

Moneyball Top Money Films

Brad Pitt plays Billy Beane, a real-life baseball team manager trying to put together a competitive team with a limited budget. Beane used statistics to identify undervalued players and turned the league on its head with his approach. The maths behind Moneyball redefined the way sporting teams worldwide identified talent, while the film gave Jonah Hill a chance to show his more serious acting chops.

The lesson: Something doesn’t have to be expensive to be valuable.

Which of your favourite films do you think should have made the cut? Email [email protected] 

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